We are witnessing a historic moment for our first freedom in America. The constitutional rights of churches and people of faith have faced some very unique obstacles in the past few weeks—obstacles that have really never been properly addressed, with this being the first pandemic-level nationwide health crisis in over 100 years.
With God’s grace, these historic challenges are being successfully overcome. Faith and freedom are winning the fight.
Churches are reclaiming the right to gather responsibly for services, faith-based nonprofits are being protected by critical legislative provisions, and we’ve been blessed to play a key role in bringing these initiatives across the finish line. Most importantly, the precedents set by these victories will protect the faith community from going through such hostility in future crises.
The U.S. Navy has “righted the ship” for religious freedom in the military, reversing its policy which previously prohibited active duty service members from attending any indoor church or religious services.
We are immensely grateful to Acting Undersecretary Slavonic and Navy leadership for righting this ship, and to Commander-in-Chief Trump for making religious liberty a priority. Thanks to this policy revision, tens of thousands of our brave service members will now be able to safely and freely exercise their religious beliefs.
First Liberty was recently called upon to stand with Ken Ham—CEO of Answers in Genesis, the Creation Museum, and the Ark Encounter in Kentucky—as they had an unfortunate “encounter” of their own with the outrageous wave of religious discrimination affecting churches, houses of worship, and religious organizations all over the country.
Even though many shops and businesses in Kentucky were beginning to reopen, Ken Ham’s organization was not allowed to do so—leaving hundreds of furloughed employees out of work.
As Ken puts it “We should have been free to open—but there was no reopening allowed for a religious organization like ours.”
So just like numerous other churches and religious organizations across the country, Answers in Genesis made First Liberty their first call—and thankfully, both the Creation Museum and the Ark Encounter were able to open shortly thereafter.
First Liberty scored a major victory for people of faith and in-person church services. U.S. District Court Judge Gregory F. Van Tatenhove granted our request for a temporary restraining order (TRO) to prevent Kentucky Governor Andy Beshear from enforcing his order that prohibits in-person church services and threatens criminal penalties.
The court’s order stated that “the prohibition on religious services presently operating in the Commonwealth is ‘beyond what was reasonably required for the safety of the public.’” “If social distancing is good enough for Home Depot and Kroger, it is good enough for in-person religious services which, unlike the foregoing, benefit from constitutional protection.”
Now churches like our client Tabernacle Baptist of Nicholasville, Kentucky will be able to gather in-person in a manner consistent with social distancing guidelines issued by the CDC and Governor Beshear’s March 25 order.
First Liberty Institute and the North Creek Law Firm represented Joshua Freed at a hearing to challenge Washington Governor Jay Inslee’s ban on religious gatherings of any size in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. As a result of the hearing, attorneys for Governor Inslee acknowledged that home-based Bible studies and prayer meetings are permissible, and that the Governor will not enforce the rules against home Bible studies on a one-on-one basis.
First Liberty secured a critical victory for On Fire Christian Church in Louisville, KY. FLI’s attorneys reached a settlement with the city mayor that will allow On Fire to continue hosting CDC-compliant drive-in services.
This critical first win was “the lawsuit heard across the nation” amidst the current COVID-19 crisis, and we believe it will become THE seminal case for protecting our Constitutional right to freely live out our faith moving forward.
It’s not often that a lawsuit results in victory the very same day it’s filed. However, that is exactly what happened in Greenville, Mississippi, and this victory is a major milestone for religious liberty in this difficult time.
First Liberty Institute filed a federal lawsuit against Greenville’s Mayor, Errick Simmons, on behalf of our client, King James Bible Baptist Church (KJBBC) seeking to stop his unconstitutional order from prohibiting CDC-compliant drive-in church services. Later the same day, Mayor Simmons announced that he was rescinding his order, and allowing drive-in church services to operate free of government interference (provided that they continued adhering to proper CDC guidelines).
In another crucial victory, county officials in Chemung County, NY stated they will once again respect drive-in church services. The change came about a day after First Liberty Institute sent the county executive a letter explaining that its previous stay-at-home policy was inconsistent with the Constitution, federal law, and CDC guidelines.
On March 27, the Mayor of the City of Frisco, Texas ordered all Frisco residents to stay at home except to perform essential activities. The Mayor’s declaration specifically prohibited religious services except by video or teleconference and limited in-person staff providing such services to no more than ten people.
In response to First Liberty’s letter explaining that its previous stay-at-home order was inconsistent with the Constitution, federal, and state law, city officials in Frisco, Texas updated their policy to allow religious services that are consistent with the CDC’s 15-day guidelines and Texas Governor Greg Abbott’s Executive Order.
First Liberty Institute urged city officials in McKinney, Texas to alter its mandatory stay-at-home orders to apply equally to churches. Under its current order, churches are subject to limitations not applied to businesses and other entities.
After receiving First Liberty’s letter, City officials amended their policy to allow religious services by video or teleconference, or by other means that comply with the CDC’s guidelines for social distancing.